Saturday, March 03, 2007

What's wrong with "Gay=Asian"?

Epic Asian American community blogger/news service Angry Asian Man (AAM) links another racist incident at an Ivy League school here: Graffiti Found in Blair Hall.

The messages (one of which is captured in the accompanying photograph) "Dry Dorms=Gay" and "Dry Dorms are for Asians", were written as attacks on alcohol-free dorms at the institution.

Often when an incident of this variety occurs, the reactions are polar: "What is this racist/bigoted crap?" and "What's the big deal?"

The perspective gap that exists between the two responses is in many ways the very problem--it's less the actual incident and more the fact that many people, some with considerable power in society equate certain ethnic backgrounds or sexual orientations with a negative connotation. That's something that should be upsetting not only to members of those groups, but anyone who believes in the marketplace of ideas that is supposed to dictate our social discourse. When people are seen with a negative connotation before we even approach their individual character, it points to difficulties in our ability to create a merit-based society.

That's not to say that such speech should be censored. If those sentiments exist--whether they be with intentional malice or not--they ought to be voiced, as only with thoughtful discourse will our society and its understanding of these issues deepen.

But the strange dynamic of this era sees "anti-PC" people attempt to destroy this dynamic while masquerading as crusaders for free-speech. While everyone should have the right to voice their opinions--no matter how racist or bigoted--why do many "anti-PC" folks believe that they should be allowed to both speak their own ideas and be free from any critique or response from those who disagree? In a true marketplace of ideas, there is no place for speech protected from criticism. Why, of any speech, would people choose to spend their energy attempting to deny speech rights to those who wish defend themselves from what they see as bigoted ideas?

But there is another issue involved with the Princeton incident which is also similar to the 2004 Details Magazine "Gay or Asian" incident. There is a clear equation of "Gayness" and "Asianness". Many apologists responded by saying, "What's wrong with that? Do you hate gay people or Asian people?" AAM addresses this well:

The graffiti, written on a whiteboard and a wall in blue dry-erase marker, read "Dry Dorms = Gay" and "Dry dorms are for Asians." That's racist! And you know why? It equates Asians with inherently being undesirable losers. Because it definitely doesn't intend to mean "Dry dorms are for cool people."

He is discussing what is wrong with the equation of not drinking with being Asian, but the same principle applies. Words do not have some universal meaning, no matter what self-absorbed fools who wack-off to Webster's might insist. This is no-brainer. In the same way some might call their best friend an "Asshole" but probably wouldn't call a stranger walking down the street with a sledgehammer the same, context and intent matters.

Being upset has nothing to do with hating Asians or homosexuals. It has everything to do with being angered by hatred directed at either group. Members of Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) explain here: Details Says "Gay or Asian". We Say Gay AND Asian.

At GAPIMNY, we were outraged by Details Magazine's "Gay or Asian?" feature. In it, writer Whitney McNally revived a history of stereotypical images of LGBT API peoples and thinly veiled racism, homophobia, and classism as humor.

So why does the "anti-PC movement" exist? Why would well-meaning people want to attack minority groups' opportunity to speak against bigoted speech?

My guess is "history". Historically, majority power groups have enjoyed the ability to denigrate others with impunity. Naturally, it would be a culture shock to wake up one morning and find that this cowardly way of artificially boosting one's lacking self-esteem is no longer received positively by large section of society. Think empathetically for a moment: You are unsatisfied with yourself for a moment, so you attack a minority group in a way that has always in the past gotten a laugh and little bit of positive attention, and suddenly you find yourself being attacked instead.

I can understand why it's so upsetting and disorienting for aversive racists, sexists and homophobes. Their world is truly falling to pieces. That's not to say we ought to humor them--their destructive values must be tested in the marketplace of ideas and ultimately they will fail the test.

But we have the ability to show empathy, even when we do not receive it. Let's demonstrate that ability.


Blogger Farrah said...

when the word "gay" is being used in that context, the intent is to mark it as lame or uncool, not to equate dry dorms or asians to being homosexual...a more important idea is to get people to think about it when they use the word "gay" to refer to something as lame or uncool...i used it for many years without thinking about the connection to i monitor myself more, but even then, it still slips out...

2:02 AM  

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